Before DC shows took over television, there was Smallville.
Smallville wasn’t the first DC show, superhero show, or Superman show. What it was, though, was one of the first shows that felt like it was trying to replicate the grandiose nature of the DC universe. It drew deep from the well of Superman’s mythology and even added something back on occasion. At its best, Smallville fulfilled the dreams of DC fans everywhere by bringing the universe to life. Its portrayal of some of the best Superman and DC characters remains the definitive take on those legendary creations.
However, Smallville fans know that being a Smallville fan meant taking the good with the bad. You had to accept that a truly great episode could be followed by a truly awful one. In that same vein, you had to accept that not every DC character on the show was going to be treated properly. Indeed, there were times when it felt like the Smallville writers were trying to sabotage certain DC characters. But that’s Smallville for you. It was an often frustrating mix of Superman done right and Superman ruined in truly remarkable ways.
These are 8 Characters Smallville Completely Ruined (And 7 It Got Right).
15 Ruined - Jor-El
Smallville’s interpretation of Jor-El was quite odd. Whereas Jor-El has traditionally been used as an absentee - but very mindful - father figure who imparts his wisdom to Superman via the Fortress of Solitude, Smallville's Jor-El was much more strict. In fact, he often acted like a villain.
That’s not inherently a bad thing, but Smallville’s Jor-El was a wildly inconsistent character. One moment, he’s a caring father, then he starts acting openly hostile to his son. He will be coerced into forgiveness, but then trap Lois Lane in a cage of pure energy.
Jor-El was whatever the writers needed him to be at any particular moment. He lacked the presence - so to speak - of past versions of the character. Still, he admittedly had his moments.
14 Got Right - Jonathan Kent
Clark Kent’s other father was handled much better in Smallville. Previous versions of Jonathan Kent were boring at best. He was typically portrayed as a good man, but his most significant action was his death. Some comic stories have even suggested that he has a more complicated relationship with his adopted son.
Smallville’s Jonathan Kent feels closer to a real person. He has dreams and desires of his own, but Clark is still the center of his life. We’re never left to doubt why he was such a tremendous influence on Clark’s moral compass. At the same time, we do see him struggle to understand how exactly he is supposed to raise a god like a kid. He has a comforting presence that he clearly passed on to his son’s alter ego.
13 Ruined - Jimmy Olsen
Jimmy Olsen is admittedly a tough character to get right. He’s somewhat annoying by his very nature. You could even say he suffers from little brother syndrome. At his best, though, Olsen is meant to represent the Superman fan in all of us. He’s a decidedly human character trying to do whatever he can to help.
Smallville’s Jimmy Olsen too often represents the worst aspects of the character. He’s not just annoying; he’s often openly jealous of Clark. Jimmy Olsen was typically used as an extension of Chloe’s character, which wasn’t exactly the best way to get full value out of him. Not many tears were shed when he was killed off. He simply didn’t add a lot of substantial material to the show.
And who can forget that terrible retcon to make Jimmy's brother the "real" Jimmy Olsen?
12 Got Right - Lois Lane
Superman writers have worked for years to move past Lois Lane’s damsel in distress origins. The most interesting versions of Lane portray her as a force of nature in her own right. She’s a headstrong investigator in pursuit of the truth. Yet, she’s also someone who wants to believe that Superman can really make things right in the world.
The Lois Lane of Smallville’s best characteristic is that she isn’t perfect. She’s not this glowing beacon of beauty that lives on Superman’s arm. She gets into trouble and is able to at least somewhat work her way out of it. She drinks too much to deal with her issues. She’ll use her looks to her advantage, but is amusing awkward at doing so.
Lois reminds Clark - and us - that humans aren’t perfect, but are very much worth saving.
11 Ruined - Supergirl
Sometime during Scooby-Doo, Where Are You’s run, the writers decided they needed to freshen things up, so they hastily introduced Scrappy-Doo; Scooby-Doo’s nephew. Scrappy was relatively popular amongst very young viewers but hated by everyone else. He was rightfully seen as a cheap attempt at creativity.
Smallville's Supergirl isn’t quite as bad as Scrappy Doo, but she does suffer from some of the same problems. She dominates the conversation the moment she flies onto the scene, but she never really gels with the rest of the cast. Even worse, it wasn't not long before the writers ran out of things for her to do. Instead, they just had her make some “don’t forget about me” storyline appearances.
As the recent Supergirl show proves, this character can be much more than that.
10 Got Right - Lex Luthor
There seems to be a bit of a divide amongst Smallville fans in regards to the show’s take on Lex Luthor. Those who don’t like the character say that he never really took that next step towards pure supervillain; that he just spun his wheels in later seasons constructing elaborate plots that really never led to anything. Then again, the same could be said of the Lex of the comics.
However, Michael Rosenbaum’s portrayal of Lex elevates the character above his lowest moments. Rosenbaum took advantage of playing a younger Luthor to slowly establish the evil in an otherwise likable young man. There were times we rooted for Lex - not because he was playing the hero, but because we genuinely believed he could become one. Yet, his most diabolical desires left no doubt regarding his true nature.
9 Ruined - Maxwell Lord
The Maxwell Lord of the comics is a fascinating villain. Initially, we are led to believe that he is simply a corrupt businessman who has decided to change his ways by helping the Justice League. Over time, though, it’s revealed that he was helping the Justice League to gather information on them. He intended to use them for his own nefarious purposes.
In Smallville, though, Maxwell Lord is little more than a psychic psychopath who shows up, tortures some people, and is quickly forgotten about. That’s lame in and of itself, but what’s really disappointing is how underused Lord is. L
ord could have been a compelling part of Smallville’s Justice League arc, but he’s quickly abandoned. It really makes you wonder why he was even there in the first place.
8 Got Right - Brainiac
Lex Luthor may get the mainstream attention, but Brainiac has been one of Superman’s greatest villains for quite some time. Brainiac's certainly powerful, but that’s not what makes him so great. No, Brainiac is great because he has had such an incredible influence on Superman’s life. His exact story varies based on who is telling it, but Brainiac’s actions have helped shape Superman’s story in ways great and small.
Smallville’s take on Superman wisely decided to save Brainiac's incredible powers for later in his run. Instead, they focused on the influence that this intelligent, powerful, and sometimes charming figure had in Clark’s life.
Brainiac argues that humanity is absurd because it’s always trying to destroy itself. That he argues this at a time when Clark isn’t sure if he can do enough good makes Brainiac a compelling presence in the latter half of the series.
7 Ruined - Zod
There are a few steadfast rules for constructing a compelling General Zod storyline. The most important rule, though, is to keep things simple.
Zod is a sheer force of nature. He’s what Superman would be if Superman only wanted to take over everything. He shows up, forces Superman to exert all his power, and leaves the world a little more broken than he found it.
Smallville tried to do too much with Zod. He first took over the body of Lex Luthor, which ultimately just deprived the show of one of its most compelling characters. When Zod returned - it was actually one of his clones - it was a better take on the character, but an incomplete one. Zod’s storyline was stretched too thin and involved some bizarrely elaborate twists.
6 Got Right - Bizarro
It’s easy enough to imagine how poorly Bizarro’s trip to Smallville could have gone. After all, the show was quite fond of using DC names in one-off, forgettable episodes. Who better to fill such a role than a character that has often been portrayed as comedic relief?
Yet, the Bizarro of Smallville enjoyed a surprisingly sizeable story arc that really captured the character’s most compelling qualities. The Bizarro of Smallville wanted simply wanted to corrupt and consume Clark Kent’s life. He first attempts to do this through the usual brutal means, but soon finds that Clark has many enemies who are more than willing to help him take Clark down from the inside.
Bizarro offers the guilty pleasure of “Clark went bad,” but in a genuinely substantial way.
5 Ruined - Martian Manhunter
Martian Manhunter’s original incarnation wasn’t exactly a great character. He was a fairly generic superhero at a time when heroes didn’t need to be complex. It wasn’t until sometimes around the Infinite Crisis era that Manhunter was established as an overseer. The Justice League relies on his incredible psychic abilities to stay ahead of the competition.
Smallville never quite figured out how to best utilize the Manhunter character. He’s introduced as a kind of guardian for Kal-El but soon loses his own powers. Then, the writers tried to rework him into the plot as a detective. That left us with the uncomfortable feeling of watching a spin-off while watching Smallville.
By the time that Manhunter got his powers back, it started to feel like someone was desperate to keep him on-screen, whether or not he had anything to do.
4 Ruined - Silver Banshee
Silver Banshee is a Superman villain we wouldn’t exactly rank amongst the greatest. However, her comic book appearances did yield a strange kind of appeal. Banshee’s ancient origins and skeletal looks made her feel like a true horror movie villain that happened to visit Metropolis.
The Silver Banshee of Smallville, though, is closer to a B-grade Buffy villain. First off, she looks way too human. Her cheap rag costume doesn’t exactly inspire fear. She’s supposed to be a mystical force yet comes across like a Mortal Kombat character nobody picks.
Even worse, Silver Banshee is defeated almost as soon as she debuts. It really makes you wonder why the writers even bothered to use a DC character rather than some new monster of the week.
3 Got Right - Toyman
Toyman isn’t Superman’s greatest villain. Actually, we wouldn’t be surprised if you don’t recall a single Toyman storyline. If that is indeed the case, you can just think of Toyman as the ultimate villainous “neckbeard.” He’s a sad and angry man who projects his pain towards anyone who comes close. While he lacks powers, he is a brilliant person who has mastered many mechanical devices.
Smallville’s Toyman is a shockingly memorable take on the forgotten foe. He’s not intimidating on the surface, but his cruelty, ill intentions, and appearance leave you feeling like you need a shower. At a time when too many villains are written to be “cool,” Toyman was a pure evil force devoid of any redeeming qualities. His relatively short arc is well worth watching.
2 Got Right - Clark Kent/Superman
We’ve seen a lot of interpretations of Superman over the years. We probably don’t have to tell you that many of them haven’t been great. Some writers and creators struggle with finding new ways to portray Superman as a character beset by conflict when he’s basically a god. This leads to the famous “superpowered boy scout” summary we hear so often.
Even though Smallville suffered through some true creative lows over the years, the show’s portrayal of Clark Kent/Superman was consistently great. Smallville made us feel invested in Clark’s arc even though we knew he would likely come out on top in the end. That’s because the show emphasized that Clark Kent was just as important as Superman.
Granted, the series could have been less stingy with the Superman side of the story, but we never stopped rooting for him.
1 Ruined - Doomsday
The key to a good Doomsday story isn’t really that different from the key to a good Zod story. Doomsday is simply the embodiment of power and evil. His arrival is like the arrival of the four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It’s a clear sign that the end of days has come.
Smallville’s writers apparently didn’t see it that way. Once again, they tried to add Doomsday to the show through the old “human vessel” storyline. This ultimately just left fans wondering when the proper Doomsday was finally going to arrive on the scene. Once that finally happened, Doomsday was defeated relatively easily by Clark, who “buried” him below the Earth. Yes, one of the most powerful beings in the DC universe was beaten by a lot of dirt.
Who were your favorite (and least favorite) Smallville characters? Let us know in the comments!
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